Posts filed under activism

Fahamu Pecou Connects Social Justice and Pop Culture with Talking Drum

50 Shades of Black featured artist Fahamu Pecou is on fire...and he's setting every platform that he touches ablaze.  In a Boss move by the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the organization sought to maintain its relevancy to the community by connecting with one of the city's most relevant artists.

Photo by Jeoff Davis

Photo by Jeoff Davis


‘Talking Drum’ puts social justice on blast 

Fahamu Pecou’s Center for Civil and Human Rights exhibit speaks, sings, shouts

By Jacinta Howard

What is an artist's responsibility with respect to social change?

Fahamu Pecou poses the question from inside his cozy Inman Park art studio. It's a question that seems inevitable given the world's current political and social climate. Pecou, who is wearing a college sweatshirt bearing American author/activist James Baldwin's name, smiles when the inquiry is lobbed back at him.

"I don't have an answer," he admits. "That's part of the beauty of it. What's that saying — the best destination is the journey? To ask the question is to begin to answer it. If we're thinking about it, then we can begin to act on it."


Posted on January 26, 2016 and filed under activism, art, blog, Masculinity, race.


I believe Dr. King wanted folk to actively engage in a process of reformulating the way they thought and felt about themselves. In a society where your ancestors had been enslaved, in a society where you couldn’t vote, it’s not hard to see how people might begin to think of themselves as secondclass citizens. It’s not hard to see how people might begin to think of themselves as inferior to other members of society. So I believe the first step in the Civil Rights Movement was revolutionizing the mindset of Black folks. It was about getting people to see and understand themselves in a new light. Therefore, I believe that certain aspects of the Black Power Movement were essential in advancing King’s efforts. What was required was a movement that would raise the consciousness of a generation. Black people needed to see themselves for who they were and not simply for how they were being treated. Black people had to see themselves as people worthy of more, as people who were more, and as people who must not wait, who must not waiver, and who must be willing to sacrifice much. People had to incrementally begin to see their own strength. King, in his own way, but much like the Black Power Movement, had to be the herald of the banner that said “Black is beautiful.” -cm

Published in HOSPITALITY (June 2015) Vol. 34, No. 5 << Click to Download full article

The Open Door Community is a residential community in the Catholic Worker tradition (sometimes called a Protestant Catholic Worker House). We seek to dismantle racism, sexism and heterosexism, abolish the death penalty, and proclaim the Beloved Community through loving relationships with some of the most neglected and outcast of God’s children: the homeless and our sisters and brothers who are in prison.

Posted on January 18, 2016 and filed under activism, blog, history, race, religion and culture.

Her Name: Kim King

One year after the death of Kim King, Hands Up United leads a vigil to Say Her Name & Ask: Who Killed Kim King.

IN BROAD DAYLIGHT: Tribute by Dontey and Bud Cuzz of Lost Voices - Saint Louis, MO

September 19, 2014 Kim King, a 21 year old and mother of 2 was arrested for a street fight by the city of Pagedale.  Kim had traffic warrants which caused her to be held by the Pagedale PD. The city of Pagedale along with St.Louis county said Kim King hung herself with a T shirt within 10 minutes of her being in the cell.

A year later and we are still asking the same question. ‪


50 Shades of Black reporting from Saint Louis.

Posted on September 23, 2015 and filed under activism, art, community, feminism, race.

THE TALK: 10 Heartbreaking Instructions To Stay Alive if Confronted by Police

Dear son,

As your father, I feel there are some very important things that I must tell you right now.  Many of them may seem totally contradictory to things I’ve told you in the past but I need for you to listen carefully and do everything exactly as I tell you.  It breaks my heart to tell you this, but it seems apparent from recent events that these measures are what are required to ensure you stay alive if confronted by police.

If you are ever pulled over by police:

1)   Avoid Extended Direct Eye Contact

Yes. I know son. I always tell you to look each person you encounter directly into their eyes as a sign of mutual respect for yourself and as a way to acknowledge the other individual’s shared humanity, but this is a different encounter...and you are black. Because of the confidence you have in who you are, your extended direct eye contact will force an officer to immediately grapple with their own fears and insecurities.  They need to feel in control of the situation, and that they have an upper hand.  Eye contact for too long may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.

Direct eye contact may force an officer to immediately grapple with their own fears and insecurities

2)   Say Yes Sir - No Sir 

Yes. I know son.  Your mom and I don’t require it nor do your teachers.  But (pause, deep breath), I guess police officers think they need more formal signs of "respect" than even your father.  Never say “yeah,” and if the answer to one of their questions is “No” and you forget to say (or can’t make yourself say) “No Sir” DO NOT say “No” with any intonation or with any emphasis.  Saying “Yeah” or “No” may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.

Police Offices think they need more formal signs of respect than even your father.

3)   Don't Ask Why

Yes. I know son. I taught you to question everything.  I know that even when you are in trouble with me you are always allowed to ask questions because I feel you entitled to know why you are in trouble.  But (long pause, suppresses anger) you are not to expect the same level of respect by police you are shown at home.  Sandra Bland asked why she was asked to step out of the car and why she was being arrested 14 times and the officer's response was get out of the car or "I'll light you up". I don't want this to be you.  It seems that asking ‘Why’ may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.

You are not to expect the same level of respect by police you are shown at home.

4) Ask for Permission

If asked for license and registration, ask for permission to reach and get them.

Yes. I know son.  They just asked for it and asking them for permission to do what they just asked you for sounds crazy but because your license will inevitably be in your pocket and your registration will likely be in your glove compartment, you will need verbal affirmation.  Reaching to grab either one without this verbal affirmation may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.



5)   Open Door Using Outside Handle and Move Slowly

If you are ever asked to get out of the car, slowly show both of your hands and open the door using the OUTSIDE handle.  Looking down and reaching for the car door on the inside may be interpreted as reaching for something else.

Please make sure every move you make is slow from this point forward. 

*You are about to enter very dangerous territory. 

Once an officer sees your entire body, they will begin to IMMEDIATELY hone in on your physical attributes and no matter what your size is, your physical presence alone, as a black man, will somehow pose an immediate threat…and this is a bigger crime than anything you were stopped for.

Your physical presence alone as a black man will somehow pose an immediate threat.

6) Raise Both Hands Above Your Head

Yes. I know son. You have no idea why you were stopped or what you are being asked to step out of the car for but if you find yourself at this point it is of CRITICAL importance that you do exactly what I say.

7)   Bite Your Tongue

While you are being frisked do not move and do not say a word unless you are asked a question.  If you are inappropriately touched, or groped, or if your genitals are fondled, please Son, do not react in anger.  If you say, “What the hell are you doing?” or “Don’t touch me” like Eric Garner or move suddenly or kick or even snatch away from these violating gestures, your life is now certainly at risk because it is already evident by their actions that you are dealing with an individual who is now intentionally trying to provoke you (because up to this point, you have literally done everything right).

8)   Let Them Cuff You

If they attempt to put cuffs on you, let them.

Yes. I know son.  Your heart will be beating fast.  You will be afraid.  You have never been in this position before.  You will be angry.  You will be confused.  You will be embarrassed.  But PLEASE DO NOT LOSE FOCUS!  If you turn to your emotions now, anything that comes out of your mouth or any movement of your body will bee seen as a threat and WILL BE met with violence.  Please son, hear me!

9)   Remain Silent

You are being arrested and though you may feel as if you have been wronged and your rights violated, this may be the only right you have left.

10)   Know That I Love You

No matter what the situation is. No matter if you turned without a signal or not.  No matter what they said to you or what they did to you or how they made you feel or your sense of helplessness or how stupid you think I was for making you follow all these rules to only end up in jail.  No matter how much the “burden” of your blackness may make you want to wash it all off.  No matter how much confusion comes flooding your mind, know that I am proud of you.  Know that you are a man even if you don’t feel like one right now.  Know that your dignity is not something anyone else determines. 

Know that hate is rooted in fear and fear is rooted in ignorance and ignorance is rooted in being too arrogant to learn and arrogance is rooted in privilege and privilege is the direct result of a well crafted, calculated, systemic plan initiated many years ago to build a wealthy independent empire…and empires don’t work if everyone benefits equally.  Though privilege itself doesn’t make a person bad, it is a very difficult thing to let go of or to use constructively…particularly if there is no acknowledgement of its existence in the first place.

And since "Power" is the bastardization of Authority, it is the most abused privilege of all…with the harshest consequences.


But Love.

The love I have for you.

The love we have for each other

can overcome this situation, Son.

Don't do anything now to harm yourself.  

I am coming to bring you home.

And you have permission to be angry when you get there.

And you have permission to cry.

I am crying right now.

May our collective tears serve as baptism

And may we emerge from the water with clearer vision for what to do next

To restore justice
To dismantle this system and its “empire” ideology that put you through this to start with. 

Pick your head up.  Let’s work. 

I love you son. 

Carlton Mackey

Director of the Ethics & the Arts Program at the Emory University Center for Ethics
Creator of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE™ and its signature project 50 Shades of Black 

BLACK AMERICANA VOL 1: Amore of the Diaspora

Amore of the Diaspora

As an artist and scholar I want to redefine and re-appropriate Black Americana to reflect, and highlight the positive contributions of people of African decent in the Americas and through out the diaspora. The first installment of the project or BLACK AMERICANA: Volume One explores relational dynamics between black men and black women at various points within the African American historical timeline looking to quantify and establish what it took for one black man to love one black woman in the past and what it takes now and cast vision for it will take generations to come. My hope is to create a body of work that encourages healthy dynamics within the Black nuclear family and helps us identify with the love that sustains us in our darkest moments and inspires us during our best, and brightest. The mixed media creative work spans multiple creative platforms, including a coffee table book of fine art photography, scholarship and documented accounts of the lives and love of real black American couples and includes contributions of notable visual artist of color selected by myself working together to expand and nuance the conversation around the legacy of Black American’s, exploring both the pain and pride in our collective stories.

Using the same two subjects, myself and Atlanta based artist, activist, and cultural influencer Devan D. Dunson we seek to embody the "black lovers” who meet at pivotal moments within black history and various meta moments within black consciousness. Visually and creatively placing ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors, experiencing and connecting with truths and moments they endured and discovering "the love" over and over again. Let our collective knowledge of black history, esteem and honor for the countless black couples and families who’s love stories are the foundation for our own be increased as we unearth the SUBSTANCE and fiber of our communal connection. What it is that binds and bonds us as a community, as brothers and sisters, as man and woman? What is the soul, spirit and dynamic power of black love? So few of us are taught, have modeled or EVER really get to experience what LOVE looks and feels like when its healthy because "our love" story has had to unfold in the midst of injustice, poverty and a racially toxic society, to me the art and the artist are one, as I seek to unlock and creatively express what is contained in my own heart, my own pride and pain found, I hope to heal and celebrate the beauty and spirit of "our stories" and find the “love" in our legacy.  

-Tanisha Lynn Pyron

HERE & NOW: Modern Ideas of Slavery in Correlating Historical Landscapes

In the mid-1800s, Richmond VA was the largest source of enslaved Africans on the east coast of America. "Visitors to Richmond today have no way of seeing these stories, and residents have few ways of marking them." The stories of these spaces are worth recalling, as part of our own representational spaces.

In this two part series by 50 Shades of Black featured artist Breonca Trofort, we recall these stories and discover ways these spaces are part of our own narrative.


Silas Omohundro’s Negro Slave Jail - 17th & E. Broad Street 

Photo by Breonca Trofort from her series HERE and NOW

Photo by Breonca Trofort from her series HERE and NOW

Popularized by the Hip Hop culture, the male fashion statement of “sagging” is often displayed through young men wearing pants revealing their underwear, while usually being overly accessorized with jewelry, mostly chains. “Sagging” was adopted from the United States prison system where belts are prohibited to keep prisoners from using them as weapons or in committing suicide by hanging themselves. This style has become a symbol of freedom and their rejection of the mainstream society. Also popularized by hip hop artist are the use of wearing chains. Chains, primarily used in the past as a form of bondage, has now become a symbol of wealth. Since these ideas can easily be linked back to prisons, I decided to photograph this person at Silas Omohundro’s Negro Slave Jail located on 17th and E. Broad Street, present day Exxon Gas Station. 

"This exploration has given me another way to look at history, realizing the cycle that the past continues to play on the present."

-Breonca Trofort 

Slave Auction - 15th & E Main St

Photo by Breonca Trofort from her series HERE and NOW

Photo by Breonca Trofort from her series HERE and NOW

Common in the African American community, young males are often taught that the only way they can be successful is through becoming a rapper or an athlete. Mainstream media often glorifies these professions and young children believe that is all they can become. I decided to photograph this young child holding a basketball in the location of where a slave auction was held, in order to describe how the process and system of becoming a college-athlete and/or pro-athlete has been compared to a slave auction. Setting aside the hard work and determination that athletes pursuing this dream endure, it is commonly stated that the professional sports "drafts" are looked at as an auction. During drafts, primarily wealthy institutions predominantly owned by white men are "buying" the persons (predominantly black athletes) they feel will "work" the hardest and benefit their business the most.

Stay Tuned for Part 2

Breonca Trofort is one of four Lead Artists of 50 Shades of Black. She is a sports and portraiture photographer for commercial and editorial clients.

Posted on July 2, 2015 and filed under art, education, Masculinity, activism.

President Barack Obama Delivers Powerful Eulogy for Clementa Pinckney

 Beautiful and moving, please take a moment to watch if you have not seen or heard this in full.

Obama eulogizes pastor in Charleston shooting. Obama sings Amazing Grace at funeral of Charleston shooting victim Clementa Pinckney. Washington (CNN) President Barack Obama on Friday eulogized the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the victims in last week's church massacre, calling him a "man of God who lived by faith."

50 Shades of Social Media: Tumblr #BlackoutDay 6/21

This weekend saw the most recent installment of Tumblr's #BlackoutDay. 

Tumblr user T'von expect-the-greatest) first created Blackout Day in an effort to increase the presence and appreciation of black people online and on social media.  

"I got inspired to propose Blackout day after thinking “Damn, I’m not seeing enough Black people on my dash”. Of course I see a constant amount of Black celebrities but what about the regular people?"

"Blackout Day is a way for black people on social media to say 'Hey. I see you. I appreciate you. I’m here for you.' "

"Blackout Day is a way for black people on social media to say 'Hey. I see you. I appreciate you. I’m here for you.' "

"I thought about the tag #Black Friday, and making it a tradition on the first Friday of every month, because celebrating the beauty of Blackness is of the UTMOST importance. I’m really sick and tired of seeing the “European standard of beauty” prevail. It’s past time for the beauty of Black people to be showcased.  I love all people of color, but this here is for us."

Originally March 6th, 2015, #BlackOutDay quickly became a top trending hashtag in the US. Pictures, vines, selfies, and videos of black women, men, transgender, all body types and shades were quickly uploaded to Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, and Facebook.  The day, a 24 hour celebration of black and brown people,  had quickly become a point of unity for young "black tumblr" and "black twitter".

It's just a bunch of kids posting selfies, right? Why is this important? 

Representation. Being a regular tumblr user myself, the sight is heartwarming. Selfies of black young men and women often come with small anecdotes about how they had never felt comfortable posting an image of themselves online where the act is common place for young people. Many times these young black men and women felt unappreciated or had been told black people were unattractive. After seeing confident, beautiful people of all shapes and sizes on social media, some that looked like them, they felt reassured and noted that #BlackoutDay helped them to accept their own beauty. It isn't rare to see a selfie of a young individual with similar words and tears of joy and subtle apprehension under the hashtag. 

Starting as a 'first friday of the month event', Blackout Day has continued to evolve. The original blog has evolved into a movement of its own touting the unity and apprecation of black people as its banner. A new schedule aimed at consolidating posts across social media arose "Blacking out" the first day of each season this year. Get ready for #TheBlackOut coming in 2015 and get those selfies ready! Black is Beautiful!

"No matter what your skin tone is, you’re beautiful."

"No matter what your skin tone is, you’re beautiful."

"Like books and black lives", Representation matters. 

Check out some of the #BlackoutDay posts | Twitter | Tumblr 


  1. Color the FutureT'von ( expect-the-greatest), creator of BlackOutDay, speaks his piece
  2. Bring it Love. HI! Tomorrow, March 6 is Blackout Day!!. 2015-03-05.

Tywanza Sanders: Youngest Life Lost in Charleston Shooting Will Now Smile Forever


**I utilized this photo from Wanza's Instagram page. The caption he had under this photo was: "Believe you can and you will. Believe in God and he will."

BLACK MEN SMILE is a new signature project of 50 Shades of Black "Celebrating the Way We See Ourselves".

Fahamu Pecou brings the "Black Male" to the forefront of the Atlanta Art Scene

50 Shades of Black contributing artist Fahamu Pecou explores black male identity and representations of Black Masculinity.  He is one of 12 artists celebrated by ArtsAtL for their impact on the Atlanta art scene.  

As both artist and PhD student in Emory University’s Institute of Liberal Arts, Pecou unravels and scrutinizes representations of black masculinity through satire and caricature, acting out various modalities in which such identities are constructed.

To call Pecou’s work ironic, however, is missing the point. And if you think that, you might be among the multitudes lured by a marketing campaign fashioned after the celebrity culture he critiques.
— Faith McClure
Posted on April 7, 2015 and filed under activism, art, Identity, Masculinity, press, race.

I Am No One's Nigger

To say it’s been an emotional few weeks would be an understatement considering that two police officers just went unpunished by our justice system for the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. With all of this racial tension in the air and protests galore going strong in cities across the nation, it’s become a tense and difficult time in America to be black.

In the thick of all of this chaos, I’ve had many a conversation about race relations and politics, including one particularly salient conversation with my father about racialized trigger words for black people, specifically the word nigger. My father, who is now in his 60s, told me about some of the times in his life where white people have called him a nigger, whether to hurt him or prove they were somehow “down.” And he shared with me that he had to learn for himself that he couldn’t allow that word to trigger his rage because it wasn’t worth it to lose his freedom, his dignity or his life fighting the world over a word that did not define him. And he advised me to do the same to keep my sanity and my freedom.

Being an 80s baby, I’ve only ever been called a nigga by white guys who thought, in this so-called post-racial world, that it was okay now to say nigga because we were friends - emphasis on were. For me, I’d been lucky not to have been called that word in a hateful manner.

However, I got a rude awakening about how the racism of America can easily hit home last week when I had an unforgettable run-in with a racist man on the road.

While driving through Roswell in search of a Chase bank, I accidentally cut off a white man on the road behind me from making a turn before me. He immediately began honking his horn and when the oncoming traffic had cleared for me to make my turn, he sped past me, took the turn first, and shot a bird at me while mouthing fuck you. 

Sadly, it doesn't end there. After we both turned into the shopping complex, he drove to a stop sign 100 feet away from me, jumped out of his car and yelled "FUCK YOU!! FUCK YOU NIGGER!! FUCK YOU!!" at me at the top of his lungs. He yelled so loudly that I heard him clear as day with my windows rolled up. 

The entire time I looked him in his face and saw nothing but sheer hate and rage as he hurled "NIGGER" at me like it was a barbed whip and he wanted to see my blood spill and splash to the ground - The look in his eyes told me that he wanted me dead. He wanted me to not exist anymore, as if I was the thing in his life that was causing him so much pain.

Unfortunately for him, the turn was just a turn, nothing more. The moment was unimportant and his rage was unwarranted. I had nothing to do with his rage. He was angry before he even came across my little Civic. He was a fucked up individual long before the day we crossed paths....and in the words of Kermit the Frog, that wasn't none of my business.

I wanted nothing to do with any fight, any chaos or any life-threatening brawl over something so small and petty. So, instead of hopping out of my car and confronting the racist, I simply shrugged my shoulders and arms in front of his face and drove off to his destination.

if being a nigger is such an evil and vile thing, then it that moment I wasn't the one who was being a nigger. I was a black man looking for a bank who made a simple driving error in a place that I'd never driven to before. I wasn't looking for any trouble, nor was I going to entertain it. He on the other hand was an angry man looking for trouble who was willing to disturb the peace, harass and insult me all over the most minor of annoyances.

According to "The Boondocks," that kind of attitude is what leads to so-called "Nigga moments"

It wasn't my black ass that was acting like a angry, violent fool. Instead, it was a cowardly, racist older white man who was acting like a so-called "nigga/nigger" that day.

It's sad that in these modern times young black people still have to deal with the racism that our foremothers and forefathers fought so hard to erase, and it's even sadder that the world still sees people of darker skin as worthless niggers who deserve any kind of inhumane treatment just for breathing...or taking cutting them off on the road. 

It shouldn't be that way....and there shouldn't be any one who is thought of or called a nigger. There shouldn't be anyone who is treated as less than human. 

But that's not the world we live in right now. Thankfully, I didn't forget the lessons of my father and so many of my black ancestors taught me about how to deal with racists and their hate. I didn't forget that I am Nicholas Robinson, not some so-called nigger, not some word that has nothing to do with my character, my body or my spirit.

I am no one's nigger.


Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on December 10, 2014 and filed under activism, race, skin tone, personal stories.

The Mike Brown Murder: Do Our Black Lives Really Matter In America?

Honestly, it came as no shock to me that police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted in the shooting death of Ferguson, Missouri teen Mike Brown.

From the violent reaction that Ferguson officials had towards protestors to the shady way they handled evidence in the case and even the way the media tried to vilify Mike and spare Darren's dignity, all signs pointed to the imminent result that Darren would walk away a free man

And how could be I surprised? History has shown me so many times that when any white person or person of fair skin kills a black person, the lighter person is usually some brave, heroic soul doing his or her job to defend their self against the evil dark black people

That's exactly how it played out when police officers in Staten Island thought it okay to choke Eric Garner to death back in July. That's exactly how it played out when police officers shot and murdered John Crawford for holding a toy gun in Walmart. And that's exactly how it played out when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin after claiming that the young boy looked suspicious as he walked home from a trip to the store.

Even if they aren't killing us, they're vilifying us with the same laws that they use to protect themselves when killing us. Marissa Alexander used a firearm to fend off her abusive husband, and though her act of defense should rightfully have fallen under the Stand Your Ground law that allowed Zimmerman to walk free after murdering Martin, Alexander has spent over 1,000 days in jail and recently had to take a plea deal in order to bring a swifter end to her legal ordeal.

And to add insult to injury, in each one of these situations the media said the same negative things about the victims: "Their hands weren't clean anyway," "They were no angel," "They were still criminals," "They brought it on themselves." Because in the eyes of the media, all black people deserve to be treated violently because we are inherently evil. We are niggers, you know.

So why should I be shocked that Wilson would go free for murdering Brown? Why should I be surprised that, once again, America has proven that our black lives have no value or worth?

Instead, what I feel is the same thing I've felt my entire life: disappoint, anger and terror.

Living in this country as a black person must be one of the most mind-blowing and insane forms of existence because unlike our fairer skinned brothers and sisters, we don't seem to have the luxury of just worrying about our own self-perception. No, we live a life of dualities, double standards and code switch that forces our sense of self to battle with white people's perception of us on a daily basis.

We can learn, grow, educate, laugh, love, excel at life, create amazing new things for the world and even change it with our minds and hearts, but as it stands right now in this society, all that we are can be diminished and extinguished by those in power simply because of our skin tone. And sometimes, too many times, we pay for that inequality with our lives.

So we live out our time believing the best of ourselves, all the while knowing that for all of the great things that we are we are seen and treated as less than human by White America.

And what could be more of mind fuck than that? Knowing or at least trying to believe that you are amazing and worthy of life and freedom, but also knowing that someone else has the power to take that away from you and will do it at their leisure just because of who you are.

Honestly, it's hard to feel optimistic and hopeful in these times, let alone offer some words of comfort. I don't know that what I have to say will be comfortable to anyone. Then again, perhaps it's best that it not be. This isn't a comfortable situation to be in and it's certainly not a comfortable state of existence for black people to live in.

What I can say though is that the voice in our head telling us that we are amazing and that we deserve better is right. We are worthy of this life and we are worthy of the freedoms of this world. And history has shown that we are one hell of a resilient community of people. So while we are alive, let us learn if we have to, fight if we have to, rage if we have to, and make peace if we have to. Let's do whatever we can to make this world better for and equal for all races and people.

And perhaps most importantly, let us love in the face of hate and terror.

P.S. Hearing this song has helped me deal over the last day. Perhaps it can help you all deal as well.


Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Posted on November 25, 2014 and filed under activism, race, skin tone, current events.

The Instrument of Marley, the Name of Mandela, a Movement in Kenya

The Ethics & the Arts Program and 50 Shades of Black Present:

A Foresee Films Production


When: October 30, 2014  7pm - 10pm
Where: Emory University Center for Ethics

1531 Dickey Drive
Atlanta, GA  30322

Join us for the free public screening of "Maramaso" and conversation with the film director

"Maramaso" is a documentary that follows peace activist/musician Nelson Mandela Akello as he attempts to use his music to dissuade tribal violence during the hotly contested 2013 Kenyan presidential elections.

"Maramaso" was directed and edited by Emory alumna, Laura Asherman, produced by Ashley Beckett and shot by Atlanta-based cinematographer, Michael Morgan. "Maramaso" was an official selection of the Film Aid International Film Festival.

"Maramaso" was narrated by 50 Shades of Black creator Carlton Mackey.

Free visitor parking is available at 29 Eagle Row (on campus).

Posted on October 28, 2014 and filed under activism, africa, art, music.

#TheMikeBrownMurder: Solidarity And Terror In Being A Nigga in America

When you're born black in America, there are some harsh truths about life that you just have no chance of escaping: One being that many people in the world will see you as less than human because of the color of your skin and the culture you come from; Secondly that, whether you like it or not, in somebody's eyes, perhaps your own as well, you're a nigga; And thirdly that, because of your skin tone, the police won't always look at you as a human being who they're hired to protect and serve. Instead, you'll often be looked at as a threat that needs to be harassed, controlled or eradicated.

And that script of life played out with deadly results on Saturday, Aug. 9, when 18-year-old Ferguson, Missouri teenager Mike Brown was gunned down by a police officer and left to die in the middle of the street for his entire neighborhood to see. 

If you talk with most black people and ask them how they feel about the Mike Brown murder, what you'll like hear is something along the lines of, "Mike Brown was murdered by the Ferguson, Missouri police because he was black and the police tried to cover it up because his life meant nothing to them."

No minced words. No prefacing. No beating around the bush; Just an uncurbed torrent of anger, frustration and sorrow encapsulated in one candid sentence of raw pain.

All around the nation black people are sharing in the pain and tragedy of this murder because, even though none of us want these harsh realities to be true, there's a shared understanding in the terror and sense of solidarity in being harassed, being terrorized and being, well, a nigga in the U.S.A.

For me, that point was driven home last week when I and my group of black gay male friends had a group chat on Facebook about Brown's murder. As we sifted through social media reports from the brave residents of Ferguson, we shared our pain and anger at the photos and videos of Brown's black body lying limp and bullet riddled as his blood turned the concrete streets into a river of crimson. And we continued to watch as resident posted photos of Ferguson's militarized police hurl tear gas, shoot rubber bullets and point their guns as protestors as they held their hands in the air, begging for peace and for justice.

In the end, it was my friend, Chase, who put our collective feeling into one succint and soul-draining statement.

"I'm tired....And I don't want to die like that."

As soon as those words appeared on my computer screen, my heart broke and scattered across my keys, for him, for me and for all of our friends. I know exactly how he feels, and why his heart is tired and weary. Every black person knows exactly how we feel because that terror is attached to both how we're treated by the police and the American government as well as how we're raised by our families.

For most black people, even in these so-called modern times, you learn that you'd better get used to being called a nigga, both as a blood-stained term of endearment from other black people, and as a word of unbridled hate from other races.

And as a so-called nigga, you're taught at an early age that, although it's okay to call the cops if your life is in danger or you've been robbed, don't expect them to show too much sympathy or concern for you, or even show up in a timely manner. Even more grave is that we're taught that any encounter with a cop, especially when you're pulled over or stopped on the streets, can result in the end of your life if you follow a strict set of behavior patterns.

1) Don't dress too black

2) Don't talk or act too black

3) Don't make any sudden movements and always announce whatever move you're going to make.

4) Always say sir, ma'am, or officer.

5) Never raise your voice to them.

6) Always be as cooperative as possible and don't challenge them unless absolutely necessary.

7) Don't fight back

8) Make them feel like you know you're the nigga in this situation, and that you're non-threatening, and that you know who's in power.

9) Stay alive

If you can do all of those things, then there's a strong enough chance that you might not be racially profiled or harassed because you're black, and you may even leave with your life. But the frightening loophole of those rules is that you're still a nigga and the laws that count, laws of the land set up by the majority, police a and the government, weren't all made for niggas and don't always apply to us. So even if you follow all these rules, you could stil end up dead just like Mike Brown, regardless of whether you're innocent, or compliant, or unarmed.

And although there are some black people who we think have transcended their skin tone and are exempt from the harsh realities being just another nigga, a startling tweet posted by Childish Gambino last week reminded me tha all black people know that fear that every black person lives with.

And that last tweet sums up so much of what we feel on a community-wide scale. At the end of the day, regardless of how much money we make, how we dress, how we talk, what we contribute to the world, or what gender we are, the reality is that we are all subconsciously and consciously fearing that "our turn" is next or that someone we love will be next.

We fear that day our father might have his turn, or our mother might have her turn, or our sister might have her turn, or our brother my have his turn, or a beloved family member might have their turn, or our nigga(s) might have their turn.

We're all waiting for that day when the police "turn" on us, just hoping that when it comes, we can just go home safely.

And it's not fair that we feel this way. It's not fair that our loved ones feel this way. It's not fair that we bear the psychological damage that comes from it, the nihilism, the broken hearts, the lost children, and the lost hope. It's not fair that police across the nation disprportionately attack us. And it's not okay that the media continuously portrays us thugs, delinquents and savages even when we're innocent.

It's not fair that when my friend tells me he doesn't want to die that way that I have to muster up every bit of hope and strength I can and tell him "cherish whatever reason you have to smile....honor the anger and the drive to change things....but smile too. Otherwise, you'll die another kind of death."

I tell all of my friends this because I literally have no other way to protect them. Until the government, the media and society at large decides to engage the black community in honest conversations about race and oppression, and alter their perspective about us in a positive way, all I can do is advise my friends to shift their perspective of the world just to function and survive in this reality.

I have to ask them to smile, even when they want to cry, even when they feel like dying, because that is part of the experience of being a nigga in America.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Posted on August 19, 2014 and filed under activism, community, current events, race.

Jason Collins Tells Us How 'It Got Better'

As a part of the “It Got Better” video campaign, launched by Lexus in collaboration with the "It Gets Better" project, Jason Collins, the first openly gay baller to sign with an NBA team, recalls his journey from a life of struggle in the closet to a life of freedom after coming out last year in a Sports Illustrated feature.

And as expected, Collins heartfelt words paint an poweful portrait of a journey that not only left him standing in his own truth, but also wise enough to help others sturggling with their sexuality to live their truth as well. 

“In 2011 I started thinking about the rest of my life … thankfully I had a trainer and I saw online that he did an ‘It Gets Better’ video,” Collins says. “There were so many times that I heard parts of my story in his story. I sent him an e-mail and told him in the e-mail I was gay and that I needed someone to talk to about it. We sat on a bench and it was actually the first time I said the words out loud, ‘I’m gay.’”

“It felt so good to finally realize what it is to be myself. I didn’t have to, like, say I’m going on a fictional date with some girlfriend who doesn’t exist. I could take the mask off and see that everything was okay. I was still the same person, same mannerisms, same everything. I didn’t have to lie,” Collins added.

Check out his amazing "It Got Better" video below. 

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on June 6, 2014 and filed under activism, LGBT, Identity.

RuPaul and The Problem With The Big 'Tranny' Debate

Living in this country, it’s already hard enough being a minority but it’s doubly problematic when your specific community is lumped together with other oppressed minority groups and you find these communities in conflict with each other. It’s a predicament that has plagued black people, brown people, women, people of various classes for many years. And now America is seeing it play out within the LGBTQIQA community (Seriously, that is too many groups lumped together) thanks to gay drag icon RuPaul’s ongoing battle with the transgender community over the use of terms like “tranny” and “she-male” in “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Just to give a recap, for several months now “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has come under fire from the transgender community for using words that were considered anti-trans slurs, like "tranny" and "she-male." The controversy grew so large that producers for the show apologized to the trans community and edited out a mini-challenge called “Female or She-male” from the season. They also pledged to stop using trans slurs as well.

Recently, RuPaul was asked how he feels about the controversy and he fired back at what he called a “fringe” group within the trans community who are simply looking to play victim and police others when it comes to language.

“Does the word ‘tranny’ bother me? No. I love the word ‘tranny,” RuPaul said.  “No, it is not the transsexual community. These are fringe people who are looking for story lines to strengthen their identity as victims. That is what we’re dealing with. It’s not the trans community, because most people who are trans have been through hell and high water and they know — they’ve looked behind the curtain at Oz and went, ‘Oh, this is all a fucking joke. But, some people haven’t … You know, if your idea of happiness has to do with someone else changing what they say, what they do, you are in for a fucking hard-ass road.”

“But don’t you dare tell me what I can do or say. It’s just words. Yeah, words do hurt … You know what? … You need to get stronger. You really do, because you know what, if you think, if you’re upset by something I said, you have bigger problems than you think,” he added.

Not so surprisingly, his words caused an uproar among the LGBT communities, and even some of his drag race alumni weighed in on the matter. Season 3 contestant and transgender superstar Carmen Carrera, who previously criticized the show for its use of trans slurs, slammed RuPaul for what she claimed was insensitivity to the trans community.

"This battle of respect is something very real to me," Carrera previously stated in a Facebook post. “I've watched my friends get called out in public for not being passable as female and hurt big time about it, I've watched my friends in the news that got murdered and never investigated, I've watched my friends believe all they can do in life for money is escort. I'm very passionate and believe that every time the LGBT community is featured in the media, people are learning about us. Now more than ever. My thing is, teach them the good of who we are that way it will cause a ripple effect and open the doors for respect and then ultimately lead to more people loving us."

However, Season 6 winner Bianca Del Rio fired back at Carrera and implied that the she should be silent and grateful that Ru gave her a platform to superstardom.

“There’s all this madness about shit we can say and shit we can’t say…it’s not that fucking serious. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t know who the fuck Carmen Carrera was if she didn’t fucking get on ‘Drag Race.’ Maybe she should stick what’s left of her dick and shove it in her mouth and shut the fuck up,” Del Rio said at a recent performance.

Ru was also supported by famous transgender activist Justin Bond, who argued in a Facebook post that “tranny” should be considered an empowered word of endearment in the LGBT community.

“In lieu of standing up to the haters who seek to diminish us and our accomplishments and standing UNITED IN PRIDE IN OUR DIVERSITY these thoughtless “word police” instead go on the attack and achieve easy victories by harassing, silencing and shaming members of their own community and the allies who are thoughtful and sensitive enough to the reasons and feelings behind their anger that they are willing to listen and -as usual, blame themselves and make the changes because it’s just EASIER to “evolve” back into silent, bullied shame. What they fail to recognize is that by banishing the use of the word TRANNY they will not be getting rid of the transphobia of those who use it in a negative way. What it does do is steal a joyous and hard-won identity from those of us who are and have been perfectly comfortable, if not delighted to BE TRANNIES, but the fact is WE ARE NOT GOING AWAY. In case you didn’t know it WE’RE TOUGH!”

And those three opinions exemplify the strong arguments that are being hurled across the board over the use of trans-focused words.

On one hand, it’s understandable why queens like RuPaul and Bianca feel such a strong ownership of the word “tranny.” Before the Western world even had an inkling of an understannding of what a trasngender person is, tranny was a word used to describe drag queens and anyone else dressed as the opposite sex. For some in the older generation, it became a word of pride, being used not only in conversation but also as a powerful descriptor when advertising for shows. 

But like the way many words change over time, the context and definition of tranny has changed as our society has opened its eyes and mind to the existence of transgender people. What was once just used as an umbrella term to describe anyone who used fashion to break gender norms has now been used, mainly in a comical or offensive way, to describe members of the transgender community. And although some in the LGBT world feel a sense of ambivalence or pride about the word and others like it, clearly there are those who are offended by it's use.

I'm not a transgender person and I've not done drag enough times to call myself anyones drag superstar (I was quite BEAT though), so I'll never fully understand what it feels like to be in their shoes or be called a tranny. But as a black gay man, I look at a word like tranny and the way it is dividing communities of people and it reminds me of the impact that words like "faggot" and "nigger/nigga" have had on my own respective communities. 

As minorities, or rather oppressed groups, we know that those words were born from hate and used to brainwash us into thinking we were less than human, less than worthy of life, love and knowledge. And for many of our ancestors, and, sadly, for many of our friends and family, those words were that last that many of us heard as we were brutally victimized in hate crimes and lynchings. 

Unlike most other offensive words in the English language, those two are drenched in the blood of millions. They're so scarlet stained that even though both the black and gay communities, more so the black community, have taken their respective words of hate and tried to turn them into terms of endearment, they still bring about feelings of pain, frustration and loss when said in the wrong way, or by someone of the wrong race, or to a little black or gay child who undoubtedly will have that word forced upon them, even by his or her own people.

I understand the reasoning behind wanting to reclaim a word of hate and I also understand the reasoning behind wanting to ban it as well. I even understand the reasoning behind wanting to take power away from all of those words and focus on the forces behind them. I think that everyone must choose to handle those words in the way that works best for their own spirit.

But what I have trouble understanding is how a person, especially a minority, can tell people of another minority group that they're weak for being angry about hearing a word used to sometimes degrade and dehumanize them. 

I believe that RuPaul has done a lot to improve the lives of the LGBT community especially when it comes to giving us representation in the mainstream world, and superstars like Carrera have many reasons to praise RuPaul for that. But just like I don't owe any other black person my silence about the word "nigger/nigga", or any other gay person about the word "faggot", and I especially don't owe anyone outside of those two communities my silence, no transgender person owes anyone their silence about the word tranny and how it makes them feel.

I think that, as minorities, we often forget that we don't all sit equally on the bottom of the social totem pole. There's a privilege to being a biological man or woman, especially a man, and being able to play in gender and revert back to your biologicial form at will when you take off the clothes, the fake dicks, the wigs and the makeup. It's easier to shrug off painful words when they don't have to apply to you at all times. But it's a hell of a lot harder when there is no drag, no mask, no act and you are simply transgender. There is no easy escape or solace then. You have to actively and willfully find strength and power in yourself everyday to rise above the hateful words and actions of others, all while trying not to succumb to the self-hate and esteem issues that such attacks will inevitably cause. And while that doesn't sound too different from the lives of every other minority group, like all of them, there are nuances to that struggle that can only be fully understood if you live it.

And I'm not the only one who shares that sentiment. Of all of the responses to the "Drag Race" controversy, I think the one we can all take to heart is that of Season 6 runner up Courtney Act, respectfully challenged Ru’s words in a Facebook post and explained that we should spend less time fighting each other and more time trying to love each other and end oppression.

“I’m a little surprised by @rupauls recent reaction to trans issues. I understand and apply in my own life the logic about not giving other people power over how I feel, but I am not 1 in 12 trans people in America who will be murdered. As Ghandi said “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members,” so why doesn’t everybody say “Love?”

If you’re gay, how do you feel about straight people in the media using the word f—-t? If you’re black, how do you feel about white people using the word N#@$^? At some point we agreed that those words are not acceptable, I can’t even type the “N-word,” so much as say it out loud. Why are we so flippant about tranny? I don’t agree with polarizing the argument either way, but I do think we need to overcome the ego, coming from both sides, and have some compassion and consultation so we can move forward. Let’s change the way we are looking at this argument, cause when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

What would be energy better spent right now is focusing on helping trans people improve their quality of life.  Here are some facts I'm sure we all can agree are not acceptable and that we need to come together and bring about positive change:

Transgender facts

1 in 12 transgender people in America is murdered. (This one fact alone is more than enough)

Although social acceptance for transgender people is growing, parents continue to abandon youth with gender-identity issues when their children need them most, advocates say.

49 per cent of transgender people attempt suicide.

Transgender youth account for 18 per cent of homeless people in cities such as Chicago, but researchers estimate fewer than 1 in 1,000 people is transgender.

Transgender youth whose parents pressure them to conform to their anatomical gender report higher levels of depression, illegal drug use, suicide attempts and unsafe sex than peers who receive little or no pressure from parents.

Sources: Guidelines for Transgender Care (2006), Gender Spectrum Education and Training, Families in TRANSition (2008).”


Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

The Lioness Project: Unleashing Female Beauty

"It took me a long time to realize that being beautiful has nothing to with the size you are, the shade of your skin, the texture of your hair or the price tag on your garments. Beautiful is a frame of mind--it's how you identify yourself and not how others identify you. But before I came to that realization I struggled with things about myself that the world told me wasn't good enough. It caused insecurities and self hate that consumed me on the regular basis. At 32 years old--I've FINALLY accepted me. I'm a brown skinned, bald headed, DC native turned Southern Belle who smiles a lot and is always down for a good laugh, being in the company of beautiful people and good food. What's not beautiful about that?"

50 Shades of Black Blogger
Creator of P8prbutterfly and The Lioness Project

The Lioness Project is a  collection of beautiful and tastefully orchestrated nude photos of women of all shapes, sizes, colors and sexual orientation. 

The truth is that women are some of the most exotic creatures on the earth and we often forget that and it's easy to do. Between raising children, working everyday, being a lover, a friend and rescuing the world--we lose ourselves. Our creativity fades and our identity dwindles. We forget to love the love handles, enjoy our full lips and embrace the stretch marks. It's who we are and real women don't look like Beyonce or Kim--but we are just AS beautiful. So--this will surely be a friendly reminder to continue to embrace your authentic true self in everything that you do. 

I am also happy to have acquired support from Carlton Mackey and BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE on this project. 

More at:

These shirts provided for free to the first round of ladies participating in&nbsp;  #TheLionessProject

These shirts provided for free to the first round of ladies participating in #TheLionessProject

Posted on May 21, 2014 and filed under activism, Body Image, Identity, LGBT.

50 Shades of BLACK vs. 50 Shades of HUMANITY

The title 50 Shades of Black is a word play. What is often lost in the word play is its reference to sexuality. A major function of our platform is to examine the ways in which both sexuality AND race are constructed and the similar ways in which they are regulated, made exotic, placed into a structural hierarchy. We seek to explore the intersection of both as well as the ways in which normative views are established and maintained. Both represent a spectrum of identities and both represent real life people like you and me who are trying to make sense of those identities in a very narrowly defined framework. It started off with voices of people who see themselves as and identify as black. The spectrum was unbelievable.

It moved quickly to include voices of people from India and other Asian countries, Brazil, and varying African countries who offered insight into the global influence of skin tone in the shaping of identities across the world and in hetero-normative views. The closer you fit patriarchal, heterosexual, european, Christo-centric norms in look, actions, belief, the better you faired across the globe. We see ourselves as contributors to a nuanced conversations about identity formation in the world.

Because "Black" is stigmatized and, based on the framework and construction of race (as opposed to identity), is often marginalized, we seek to affirm black identity...across the spectrum of the diaspora and among the many people who seek to align themselves with it. We also seek to affirm the LBGTQ community. "There can be no hierarchy of oppression".  At the intersection of sex and race is a depth of assumptions about masculinity and femininity and, believe it or not, the assumptions are different based on shade AND sexuality. 

When we established our signature empowerment campaign and called it beautiful in every shade, it was b/c of how clear it was made through the stories that we received that people didn't believe it to be true. Now in incremental ways, people who identify ALL KINDS OF WAYS are appreciating the ways in which we are working to critically examine AND affirm.

Someone asked why don't you change it to 50 Shades of Humanity then?

I'll change the name to 50 Shades of Humanity when people find it as easy to say Black as they do Humanity.

Carlton Mackey
Creator of 50 Shades of Black

Posted on May 7, 2014 and filed under activism, blog, LGBT.

Poet of Choctaw, Coharie, Cherokee & African Heritage asks: "Who's Afraid of Black Indians?"

Bridging the Gap with Shonda Buchanan of Choctaw, Coharie, Cherokee & African heritage. Award-winning poet and fiction writer, author of "Who's Afraid of Black Indians?"

"Trust the first drum, your heart, for all your answers. The ancestors will follow..." ~Shonda Buchanan

POEM: "The Trail" by Shonda Buchanan
(For the Staffords, Roberts, Manuels and Mathews)

These are the holes
That fill you up
A morning after 4th
Of July
The empty hollow
A memory in the fire
The quiet morning
Death of father
Suicide of a nephew
Addiction of sister
Another nephew at war
His brother, prison
Pummeling of a mother and aunts
The breaking of lives without a sound.
No honor in their deaths or mistakes
No memory of them, except here

These are the shimmering calcified minutes
The spotted ghosts of a black Indian’s
Midwest life

Where nothing and everything changed
In the fires that burned your farm houses down
And you wonder how you would
Have been or grown
How you would have loved
Had not this or this happened

I remember another July
Years past, under the glass of time
When we were all together, laughing
Spit-polished by hard love
Smoky with hunger for the future
When memory was a thing
Yet to come

~Shonda Buchanan
Photo: Nottoway pow wow in Surry, VA

BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future

This is the 11th of a weekly series of posts curated by I Love Ancestry on 50 Shades of BLACK featuring stories of inspiring people and ancestors who contributed to the struggle for freedom.

50 Shades of Black will also be curating a weekly series of stories on I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world.

We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing.

Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.

Each week we will feature a story of a historical figure & one of YOUR stories about your ancestors, your heritage, and/or your coming to understand and celebrate your OWN identity.


Posted on April 28, 2014 and filed under activism, africa, art, history, Identity, personal stories.